In it Together: Organizing a Common Security Club
Common Security Clubs are local groups that practice mutual aid, learn about the economic issues that face them, and take collective action. Click here for more blog entries.
“Facilitating a Common Security Club feels like providing water to desperately thirsty people.”
That’s according to Trudy McNulty, a facilitator in Portland, Maine.
The pastor at Trudy’s church gave a sermon about Common Security Clubs, generating a lot of interest. “Our biggest challenge,” she says, “has been giving everyone a reasonable chance to talk in a group of thirty people.”
For some, organizing a Common Security Club is this straightforward. For others, a longer organizational process makes sense.
“Ninety percent of organizing is accepting people where they are,” says Thomas Atwood, an organizer and facilitator in Redwood City, CA. “Last summer, we asked ourselves, what are the barriers people from our church face when considering a Common Security Club? We thought about that, and then made every effort to lower the barriers.”
For Thomas and his team, a major barrier was a church full of busy, over-committed people. “When you tell people about a new program—any program—their first reaction is ‘Oh no, not one more thing to do,’” says Thomas.
“We proceeded very slowly and methodically. We wanted people to buy into the idea. We knew if they experienced the benefits of a club, they would become supportive.”
Thomas invited ten or so of the most active and energetic organizers at his church into a room to talk about the Common Security Club approach. From there, he and his team held meetings where members of the church read through the curriculum together.
“We wanted every member of the church to feel like they had a stake in what was happening, and we wanted everyone to provide input at the meetings,” says Thomas. “My wife and I even took the step of holding a barbecue at our house on Labor Day, where we had another long conversation with even more people about Common Security Clubs. It was great.”
And it worked. When Thomas and his team held their Introductory Session in January, twenty percent of the church membership showed up. They are now running three Common Security Circles with about ten members each.
Another challenge organizers report is difficulty explaining the Common Security Club concept. Clubs cover a lot of ground—they are a rich experience where relationships deepen and people re-learn the practice of mutual aid, they address both ecological and economic concerns, and they tap into a vision of a new, fair economy in harmony with the planet. This can be hard to get into a sound bite.
In fact, it’s hard to even give these groups a name. Society haven’t developed much language around mutual aid, community support, group learning, economic disempowerment, and common security, so it’s hard to convey this idea in three words or less. (Stay tuned for more on this topic in a future blog post, and take our Common Security Club naming survey here.)
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Conrad Willeman, a member of the Transition Newburyport initiating group, is organizing a community-based club in Newburyport, Massachusetts. His team promoted their first event through eight co-sponsoring organizations, the Common Security Club network, the local paper, social media, and flyers around town.
The event was a big success, drawing more than 80 people. Conrad says he isn’t sure which of the outreach methods did the trick. “I do know that whenever I talk to people about this approach, they’re interested,” he says. “They might not have seen our flyers or the article in the local paper, but talking about the idea face to face always gets people’s attention.”
For many organizers, personal relationships and face-to-face conversations are the key to explaining the concept and launching a successful club. And Thomas, Conrad, Trudy and others have found that once people have the experience of a Common Security Club, they quickly “get it.”
“People are hungry for this information, hungry to share their experiences and frustrations and hungry to gain some control in a world that often seems out of control,” says Trudy. “We are already beginning to feel that we are part of a large and growing awareness worldwide that our current economy and ecology are inseparable and unsustainable. We can’t wait for change; we must be the change. Together.”
Sarah Byrnes wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Sarah is the organizer for the Common Security Clubs at the Institute for Policy Studies. She has worked with Americans for Fairness in Lending, Americans for Financial Reform, and the Thomas Merton Center.
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